This is Chapter 14 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the very beginning of this saga.
Features Tim Reilly, Brian Kinney, Frank Scanlon, Michael Novotny, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Tim goes to see Brian's band perform. Pittsburgh, March 1989. Flashback.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"You want to come and see my band play?" Brian said to Tim Reilly. It was the middle of March and this was the first time he'd called in a couple of weeks. Tim had been wondering what was going on in Brian's life. He'd been accepted at Penn State and had already finished most of his senior requirements for the year, so the main thing keeping him occupied this spring semester was soccer practice -- and his band. He'd formed the group with his friend Michael, but Tim had figured that the band was more theoretical that anything else.
"So, are you guys really playing somewhere?" asked Tim, smiling to himself. The dream of every guy with a guitar -- to be a rock star.
"Yeah," said Brian. "It's just opening for this other band, but it's at a real bar. With a stage and everything."
"Brian, you aren't old enough to go to a bar. You're still only 17."
Brian barked out a laugh. "That's the funniest thing I've heard in ages, Tim! I'm not old enough to go to a bar! Are you going to call the cops and turn me in?" Brian snarked.
Tim laughed. "I don't think so."
"Good." Brian paused. "Because I really want you to come. It's just me and Mikey and two other guys from school on bass and drums. We're going to play a couple of Lou Reed songs, The Cure, Elvis Costello. And Morrissey, of course."
"Of course!" replied Tim, smiling at Brian's obsession with gloomy, angst-ridden songs.
"Shut up!" countered Brian. But he was definitely in good humor. Tim was happy to hear that in his voice. "Mikey and I even wrote a few songs and we're going to do them. The other guys think they're pretty good, so I'll be interested to get your opinion. So, are you coming?" There was a brief silence on the other end. "Please, Tim? I want you there."
When Brian said that Tim realized that he couldn't say no. He could never say no to Brian. He would be there. "When is this auspicious debut?"
"Next Friday. At Murphy's on Clement Avenue. It's just a neighborhood bar and not that great a neighborhood. We aren't getting paid or anything. It's just good experience."
"I wouldn't want to miss the start of your meteoric rise to Fame, Brian!" Tim laughed. "Where have you been practicing?"
"At Mikey's house. In the basement. Where else? Not at my house, that's for sure!" Brian snorted. "My old man flips every fucking time he looks at me!"
"Flips? Why is that Brian?" asked Tim.
"Well, I sort of... did something weird to my hair. A little bit. But it looks really cool. Mikey's mom helped me with it."
"What did you do weird to your hair, Brian?"
"Kind of dyed it."
"I see," Tim replied, not sure what to picture. "It's your head, Brian."
"I know. That's what I told my old lady when she saw it. Then when she kept bitching about it I told her if she didn't like it, I'd shave my head! That shut her up!"
"Oh, Tim? Could you come to Murphy's by 9:00? We have to finish our set before 10:30. Our bass player has an 11:00 curfew."
"Don't worry, Brian. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
On Friday night Tim Reilly, dressed in jeans, a sport shirt, and a corduroy jacket, walked into Murphy's. He didn't want to embarrass Brian by looking too much like a priest and in his casual clothes that's the last thing Tim looked like. He had checked himself in the mirror before he left the rectory and he knew he looked good. Even hot. That made him smile at the irony of his 'disguise.'
Murphy's was surprisingly crowded. Or maybe not so surprisingly. Because apart from the older locals and the hard rock fans there to see the main act, a 70's cover band, there were an awfully lot of very good-looking and obviously gay -- at least obvious to Tim -- young men. I should have figured, thought Tim. Brian must have called all of his tricks, including Tim himself, of course, to pack this place. Yes, and there were a lot of them. Tim's heart sank when he realized just how many there were. And these were only the ones who could make it to the gig. Or only the ones whose names Brian had bothered to remember and whose numbers he had saved.
And sitting in the corner at the end of the bar, looking decidedly ill-at-ease, was Mr. Francis X. Scanlon, Esquire.
Tim looked around for Brian but he was nowhere to be seen. Tim leaned over to ask the bartender where he was. He chuckled. "You're about the 10th guy who's asked me that tonight. The band guys are in the back. They'll be starting the music around 9:30."
Tim ordered a bottle of Old Pitt and sat at the bar, waiting. He noticed Scanlon looking his way. Tim was surprised that Brian's sponsor had even showed up at such a place, so evidently outside of his usual haunts. But then Tim regarded the man's face again. Maybe it wasn't so surprising after all. Scanlon had it bad for his tall, beautiful, and sexy 'scholarship project.' And Scanlon had probably assumed -- rightly -- that he was safe coming to this venue. None of his law partners or well-to-do clients or cronies from the Hibernian Society would be caught dead in a dive like Murphy's. Here he could sit in the corner and gaze at his 17 year old male lover as openly as he dared in public. No one knew him here and no one cared. Tim wondered if Frank Scanlon had any awareness of how many other men were at this bar for the same purpose, to gaze at Brian Kinney? And that included Tim himself.
"Hi, Father Tim!" said a chipper voice coming up behind Tim in the dark bar.
"Hello, Michael," said Tim, a little startled out of his reverie. "How is your mother? And your Uncle Vic?" Tim and the Grassis had gone to school together many years before. The older Grassi sister was a bit stuck up, but Debbie had been fun and full of life. She'd also gotten into trouble in her senior year -- and the result was the short, dark-eyed boy standing next to him. And Vic Grassi -- he and Tim had been good friends all through elementary school at St. Rita's, but in high school they had drifted apart. There was something neither of them could name that caused them to evade each other. Vic had been pretty certain of his sexuality early on and most of his friends were also aware of it, even if it was never mentioned. And that made Tim uncomfortable. Because he knew in his heart that he and Vic were cut from the same cloth. So Tim avoided his old friend and joined the Marines right after graduation. And after the Marines, the seminary. Then his first posting and so on until he was put in charge of the St. Lawrence Group Home. And now... Tim was still trying to figure things out. But there were certain things Tim could no longer deny.
"They're great. Vic just moved to San Francisco. He got a new job there at a fancy restaurant. He loves San Francisco!"
"I bet he does," Tim said, smiling. "It's a great town."
"And Ma is fine. She works a lot. She did Brian's hair! Have you seen it yet?"
"No, I haven't seen Brian tonight."
"He's in the back, tuning his brand new guitar! He just got a white Stratocaster AND a Fender amp to go with it. And new black leather pants! Brian looks amazing, Father! Just like a real rock star!" said Michael, his eyes shining with admiration. Tim wondered if Brian was aware just how much this boy idolized him? But Brian seemed to take worship for granted. It was love that he had difficulty dealing with.
"You seem to have a full house tonight, Michael."
"I know! It's great! A lot of people are here to see US, not that cover band. Our drummer's older brother is in the other band. That's how we got the job," Michael confided.
"Well, you'll just have to show them up, right?" Tim said.
Michael grinned. "Yeah, we'll blow them off the stage. I mean, Brian will blow them off the stage! Did I tell you that he looks amazing, Father?"
"You may have mentioned it." Tim was amused by Michael. It was so apparent that he was completely enamored of his tall, handsome, intelligent best friend. Since Michael was obviously also gay, Tim wondered if Brian had taken advantage of this boy, too. Probably. Tim doubted that Brian, in his deadly cynicism, would pass up any opportunity for an easy conquest.
"I gotta go and get ready, Father Tim. I hope you like our set."
"I'm sure I will. Good luck, Michael."
"Thanks, Father." Michael darted through the crowd and disappeared into the back of the bar.
Tim looked around, then he took a deep breath and walked over to Frank Scanlon.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Father Reilly," said Scanlon. He was nursing a scotch on the rocks and it didn't seem to be his first one.
"Brian called me and asked me to come, so here I am."
"You think this is a good thing for Brian to be wasting his time on?" asked Scanlon, with an edge of frustration in his voice.
"He's a teenager, Mr. Scanlon. He's having fun. As long as it isn't interfering with his schoolwork I don't see the harm. He's already been accepted at Penn State and offered the scholarship. And he's still playing soccer. As rebellion goes, this is pretty mild, I'd say."
Scanlon wrinkled his nose. "You haven't seen him! He looks like some kind of freak!"
"Maybe that's his intention. To shock everyone. To shock his parents," Tim said. "Even to shock you."
"I don't understand the need for that kind of thing. The need for a perfectly good-looking boy to want to... to make himself look bizarre." Scanlon bolted down the scotch. "I just don't get it."
"Perhaps his appearance is something that he can control. Or that makes him feel like an individual. Brian has had a rough life, Mr. Scanlon, and he has a lot of anger in him. This might be a way he's releasing some of that anger in a manner that isn't damaging to himself. Dying his hair and playing music with his friends seems pretty harmless to me compared to other things he could be doing."
Scanlon shrugged. "It's just taking up so much of his time. But... I guess if it's what he wants to do...." Scanlon toyed with the glass, rattling the ice around.
"Did you buy him the new electric guitar? And the sound equipment?" Tim asked bluntly. "And more clothes? Like an expensive pair of leather pants?"
"Is it any of your damn business if I did, Father?" Scanlon snapped. Then he looked down. "He wanted it."
"This is nothing but trouble, you realize that, don't you, Scanlon?" said Tim, trying not to let his anger -- or his jealousy -- show through.
"I know," he answered quietly. "But where Brian is concerned, I just can't help it." The man set his glass down on the bar and motioned the bartender over for a refill. "I've offered Brian a job as an intern in my firm this summer. He was going to work at some construction job his father heard about, but I thought this would be better preparation for college in the fall."
Tim flinched. "Do you really think that's a good idea, Mr. Scanlon? Having Brian in your office every day?"
"Oh," Scanlon said lightly. "I'll probably never even see him... Well, not that much. If he likes it then maybe he'll go on to law school. He's certainly sharp enough to make a first rate attorney. I have some connections at a few of the law schools. Yale. Georgetown." Scanlon swallowed another large mouthful of scotch. "Brian would like it in Washington. You can make important connections there."
Tim bit his lower lip. Then he took a deep breath before he spoke. "And then I suppose that Brian will join your law firm? Is that what you're envisioning, Mr. Scanlon? Because it's a pipe dream, you know that don't you? You think that you can have your perfect, beautiful family in one box, and your perfect, beautiful boyfriend, following along in your footsteps, in another? And that they'll never get tangled up? Is that your fantasy?"
"I never said that, Father Reilly," Scanlon answered, unable to look the priest in the eye.
"But that's what you're thinking, isn't it? Brian has never expressed an interest in law school before. He's always wanted to go into business or maybe advertising. We discussed it a lot when he was filling out applications to schools."
"A boy his age doesn't know what he wants, Father!" Scanlon insisted. "It changes every week. You know that yourself from working with these kids. Last week he wanted to be a professional soccer player. This week it's a rock star. Who knows what he'll think of next week? But I'm trying to think of Brian's future! The boy has a brilliant mind -- if he applies himself. I don't want him to go in the wrong direction. I've been seeing young lawyers come up through my firm for years and I know what it takes to be successful -- and Brian has all those elements. I don't want to see him waste his mind marketing worthless products or dreaming up campaigns to sell beer or toilet paper!"
Tim looked out from the bar towards the stage. A long-haired youth in ripped jeans was tapping a microphone and adjusting the mike stand. "You're right, Mr. Scanlon. A boy Brian's age doesn't always know what he wants. But how long is he going to want to be the dirty little secret of a man well into his 40's? Or are you planning to divorce your wife and move Brian into your big house in Sewickley Heights?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Father," said Scanlon raggedly.
"Consider what you have to lose if this all comes out. What will you tell your wife and daughters? Your partners and clients? Your friends?" Tim pressed.
"I don't know." Scanlon's face was pale. "I just don't know, Father."
The lights directed at the makeshift stage flickered and Tim saw the drummer, the bass player, and Michael clamber up onto the platform. Michael was wearing jeans and a black Ramones tee shirt stretched across his thin chest. He plugged his guitar into a battered amp and grinned shyly at the audience. But the band seemed decidedly haphazard, as if they couldn't figure out what their 'look' was meant to be. Along with Michael in his tee shirt, the stringy-haired drummer was wearing a flannel shirt and the bass player was in a corduroy jacket that looked straight from J.C. Penney's.
But then Brian leaped onto the stage. He was, as Michael bragged, 'amazing' in a pair of black leather pants that looked like they had grown on his lean body and a red sleeveless shirt that was open to his waist. Brian's chestnut hair had been dyed an inky shade of black and spiked up in front. Michael was right, thought Tim, Brian looked like a real rock star. The long-haired roadie handed Brian his new guitar, a gleaming white Stratocaster, and then plugged it into his new amp. The band immediately slammed into their first song. Tim had no idea what the song was, except that it was ear-shatteringly loud.
Tim turned to look at Frank Scanlon, who was wincing as he held his head in his hands. "Brian certainly looks the part," Tim shouted in Scanlon's embattled ear.
But the other man was grim. "Brian can look any part he wants to, Father Reilly. That's his gift -- and his curse."
The audience was hooting and stamping. Tim wasn't sure whether they liked the music or hated it. He guessed that it probably didn't matter as long as it was loud. Some girls -- and a few boys as well -- pressed themselves against the stage to get a better look. Tim left Scanlon at the bar and also inched closer to the stage, finding a spot at the side. Michael saw Tim and smiled, striking a tough pose. Brian then turned and glanced his way. Tim could see that Brian's eyes were ringed with dark make-up and he had black polish on his nails. Tim shook his head. Brian never went halfway with anything.
Tim noted that neither Brian nor Michael, who handled all the vocals, could really sing to save their lives. But that didn't seem to matter when Brian leaned into the microphone. Then it was all in his attitude, all in his look. That mattered more than whether the boys were in tune or remembered all the words to 'London Calling' or 'Waiting for the Man.'
A skinny boy standing next to Tim stared up at the stage, up at Brian, completely mesmerized. "Do you think they're good?" Tim asked him between songs.
The boy looked at Tim like he was insane. "That guy is awesome!" he panted. "Totally awesome!" The kid couldn't take his eyes off Brian's leather pants. From the side of the stage Tim could see that Brian's cock looked absurdly prominent inside those pants. If Tim hadn't known better from personal experience he would have been certain that Brian had stuffed something in there to fashion such an impressive bulge.
"Um, yes. Awesome," said Tim. He glanced back towards the bar. The place where Frank Scanlon had been sitting was empty. Tim craned his neck, looking around the bar, but the attorney was gone.
The boys played a few more songs, including an original Michael sang lead on that was painfully off key:
"Just because you love me,
Doesn't mean I can't have my way!
Just because I'm leaving
Doesn't mean I don't want to stay!"
Michael croaked out the words while Brian leaned againstMichael and did a kind of harmony. It wasn't exactly good, but Tim had heard worse on the radio.
After Michael's song, Brian stepped up and introduced the members of the band, who each took a little bow.
"Some of you guys who were at our rehearsals might remember that we had a different name last week," Brian continued. "But then someone reminded me that with the name we had, The Dickbeaters, we might have some trouble publicizing our band." Brian made a face while the audience hooted. "So don't forget our new, improved name -- Femme Fatale!"
Some people in the audience shrugged, obviously not getting it, but others, mainly guys Tim had picked out as Brian's tricks, cheered loudly. Yes, that wasBrian. The classic femme fatale.
"Here's a song I want to dedicate to a good friend of mine. It's all about shit he actually believes in. It's a Nick Lowe song recorded by the great Elvis Costello!" Brian looked directly at Tim and grinned. "This is for you, Tim!"
And the newly christened Femme Fatale launched into Tim's dedication:
"As I walked through this wicked world,
Searching for the light in the darkness of insanity,
I asked myself as all looked lost,
'Is there only pain and hatred and misery?'
And each time I feel like losing sight
There's one thing I wanna know --
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? Ohh, oh, oh --
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?
And as I walk on through troubled times,
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes.
So where are the strong? And who I'd have trusted?
And where is the harmony? The sweet harmony?
Each time I feel it slippin' away
It just makes me wanna cry --
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? Ohh, oh, oh --
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?"
Tim had to step back away from the stage as the band played. It was loud and Tim could feel the thumping of the bass and drums too deeply in his head for comfort. But Brian kept glancing over at him. Trying to say something. But Tim wasn't certain what the message was.
The kid who had been standing next to Tim was practically draped over the edge of the stage, reaching out his hand to grab at Brian's black leather boot. It's a good thing that Brian doesn't have any talent, thought Tim, or he could be very dangerous with this stuff. Charisma, that's what he has. These kids can smell it, especially the gay ones. It's a deadly gift, both for Brian and for the ones caught in his web. Like Frank Scanlon. And like me, thought Tim, sadly.
When the boys finished their set, they ran off the stage laughing and pushing each other, while the crowd stomped their feet and called for an encore. Tim saw Michael pull at Brian's arm, gesturing him back to the stage. Femme Fatale came back on.
"We played all the songs we know!" cried Brian, and the audience laughed. "Besides, we've got to get the hell off so that the real band can come out and do their first set."
"Come on, Brian!" Michael urged. "We have to do one more! Every band does an encore!"
"Okay, okay!" said Brian into the mic. "We don't want to disappoint our public, right?" The audience whooped. "We only practiced this a couple of times, so don't blame us if we fuck up!"
Femme Fatale launched into a very ragged version of 'Honky Tonk Woman.' Michael banged on a cow bell while Brian strutted around the stage, flapping his arms like Mick Jagger doing his impression of a rooster on LSD. They howled out the chorus, inviting everyone to join in. This seemed to please the fans. Then the band left the stage for good and the roadie began tearing down their gear and setting up for the headlining group.
Tim walked back to the bar, looking for Frank Scanlon, but he had apparently left for good. Maybe that was the end of things between Brian and Frank. Tim hoped so. It was better that Brian was hanging out with Mikey Novotny, being in the band, going to high school, and playing soccer than acting as a convenient boytoy to his wealthy sponsor.
"What did you think, Father Tim?" said Michael, bouncing up to the bar and ordering a beer. He was only 18, but no one gave a damn in this dive. The bartender handed him a bottle of Old Pitt and Michael took a long swig.
"You guys were great, Michael, just great!" said Tim, watching the boy's face light up. He reminded Tim so much of his mother Debbie at the same age. All that enthusiasm. All that hope. Tim prayed that Michael's dreams wouldn't get dashed the way that Deb's had.
"How did you like my song?"
"Um, it was very creative, Michael," Tim replied.
"Brian helped me with the words a little, but the tune was all mine!" Michael said proudly. "Brian and I are going to write a bunch more songs! We'll need more for when we record our album!"
Tim blinked. "Oh, are you guys recording an album?"
"Not yet -- but we will!" Michael boasted. "Brian met this guy in a bar last week and he knows all these people in the music business! He's going to take Brian with him to New York and introduce him to a lot of record label bigwigs. Once they take a look at Brian and hear our demo tape it'll be in the bag!"
Tim went cold. Brian going to New York with some man he barely knew. Chasing some ridiculous pipe dream. Especially after his last New York experience had turned out so disastrously. Brian was still only 17. Did this man know that? Did he even give a damn? And did Frank Scanlon know about Brian's plans?
"What about school, Michael? You two are about to graduate!"
"Jeez, Father Tim, who needs high school when you're going to be a famous rock star?" said Michael, dismissively.
"Where is Brian right now?" Tim demanded.
Michael frowned. "In the dressing room. He's getting changed."
Tim pushed past the boy and elbowed his way through the crowd, looking for the hall leading to the backrooms. He passed the bathrooms and the manager's office and came to a door labeled 'Private.'
Tim knocked loudly. "Brian! I know you're in there! I need to talk to you!"
There was a muffled thump and Tim heard Brian say, "Quit pounding and come in, for fucksake!"
Tim opened the door and saw Brian braced up against a big Marshall amplifier. Brian's eyes were closed and his mouth open. On his knees in front of Brian, sucking his large cock energetically, was the kid who had been so hypnotized by Brian's performance.
"Do you mind closing that fucking door?" said Brian, serenely. He opened his eyes slowly and smiled.
Tim shut the door. "What do you think you're doing, Brian?" he asked.
"My friend here is showing his appreciation for my musical abilities -- aren't you?" He ran his fingers through the boy's hair. Brian's eyes looked dazed. He was obviously high. The kid didn't miss a beat, but kept sucking noisily. "It's one of the perks of stardom, Tim."
"I can see that Brian," said Tim, his voice like ice. "Did you see Frank? He was here and he left."
Brian sniffed. "Too bad. I guess he's not a connoisseur of fine entertainment, like what's his name here."
The kid paused and looked up. "Jeremy."
"Who the fuck cares?" said Brian, pushing his cock back into the boy's open mouth. "And cover your goddamn teeth!" Brian closed his eyes again. "Unless you're the next one in line for my dick, Tim, do you mind leaving? Because I need to concentrate here if I'm going to come before last call!"
Tim turned and left the dressing room. He heard Michael shouting to him from the bar, but he just kept going. He walked out the door and headed for his car. A few stray flakes of snow fell from the sky. Spring was late this year.
Continue on to "I Don't Know What To Do With Myself".
©Gaedhal, May 2004.
Posted May 4, 2004.